Compassionate Self-Kindness; #CopingWithCovid19

I follow the news of New York State closely because I grew up there, have family and friends there – and because it is so compelling and raw.

I see the hospitals overflowing; the dead placed in tractor trailers because there is no room in the morgue. I know that family members cannot go into the hospitals and be with their sick and dying loved one. I also visualize the countless nurses and doctors who are there, holding – albeit with gloves – the hands of the sick. The news reports say these people are dying alone, but I know they are not alone.

I still have a nursing license from New York. Earlier this week I was called by a member of Governor Cuomo’s task force asking if I would be willing to go to New York and work during this pandemic. My heart broke as I said no.
I have legitimate reason to say no. They all ran through my mind in a flash.
– I’m older now.
– I have several preexisting health conditions.
– My daughter is expecting a baby soon and may need me. Her husband is a doctor and he might be exposed.
– I’m already working full time as a nurse and would need permission from my employer to leave my current position to go to NY
– I haven’t been a bedside nurse in many years.
– I might be needed here when the pandemic gets worse in my area.

Despite these reasons, I knew if I really wanted to go, I would find a way. I would get permission.

In a moment of truth, I saw my shadow – the part of me that holds fear. The real reason I said no was because I was afraid. I sat and cried thinking of all the nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, radiology staff, EMT, police, fire-fighters, and other first responders – even grocery clerks who are saying yes. I felt ashamed for not stepping up. I wrestled with myself all day and into the night.

During the night, I saw myself and the situation more clearly. My personality is one that values work and productivity; doing something and achieving results. I was judging my own worth based on my utility and employment. That is flawed reasoning. We all are worthy regardless of our utility or productivity.

This week in my sangha group we discussed compassionate self-kindness.
We were asked to acknowledge:
1) where and how we are each suffering
2) we are not alone in our suffering
3) we can respond with kindness, not criticism

I completed the exercise and had an ‘Aha Moment.’ I realized that I was having a bit of PTSD. I was being triggered. I opened the door and grace walked in. I felt peace for the first time in weeks. I share my exercise with you.

I acknowledge my suffering during this pandemic.
I am identifying with the nurses who are working in dire situations.
I am visualizing the dying all over the world.
I am remembering my many years in oncology and HIV care, at the bedside of those who were dying.
I am remembering how it felt to be overwhelmed with patient care assignments.
I am recalling the death of my own mother, on an April day, years ago, when our entire family was able to be at her bedside and thinking of the families today are saying final words via phone.
I am feeling the grief of the separated, those in quarantine, those who cannot be near their loved ones.

I acknowledge that I am not alone in this suffering.
I hope and pray that those on the front lines of COVID-19 can feel my support for them.
I acknowledge the community around me including family, neighbors, friends, ward and sangha members.
I acknowledge my current work as a nurse allows me opportunity to dialogue with others, sharing relevant information and holding space for hope.

I can respond with kindness, not criticism, both to myself and others.
I am a complex being. I am neither brave nor afraid all the time.
I am more than the thoughts I think or the emotions I feel.
I can embrace my whole self, including my shadow.
I can see myself as worthy no matter what I am or am not doing at this moment.
I can apply these ideas to others.

Today, I ask you to join me in a moment of silence.
– a moment for those who are suffering and dying
– a moment for those who are recovering and living
– a moment for those who are rushing in to help, carrying the cross with the sick
– a moment for those who cannot go to a tomb to weep
– a moment for those who experience fear
– a moment for those who will experience PTSD during and after COVID-19

Holy Week is here on the calendar.
We can’t jump from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. We must go through the entire week together including the darker days of suffering and the time of separation. Eventually we will emerge from our homes. The doors will open like a stone being rolled away. We will hug our neighbors and kiss our family again. We will gather in groups and sing songs of resurrection.

In the meantime, be kind to yourself.
Maranatha. Come, our Lord. Come quickly.

If it is helpful, try this exercise:
1. Acknowledge where and how you are suffering. Write it down.
2. Acknowledge you are not alone in this. Name your support systems
3. Acknowledge you can respond with kindness, not criticism of yourself and others. Catch
yourself when you are being judgmental or harsh. Accept yourself as you are.

Allemande Left

Allemande Left lives in the eastern US with her guitar-strumming husband. Allemande Left refers to the beginning steps in a square dance. Dancers turn to their corner partner, clasp left hands as they glide past each other, then clasp right hands with the next person as they weave through the square of dancers--half going clockwise and half counterclockwise. It is a way to loosen up and meet the other dancers. As the caller sings, "Allemande Left and Away We Go."

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5 Responses

  1. Allison says:

    This: “We can’t jump from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. We must go through the entire week together including the darker days of suffering and the time of separation.” This touched me deeply. Thank you.

  2. Rachel says:

    I’ve experienced a fair amount of hardship. Though not a nurse, I work in a hospital and this pandemic has brought more stress and suffering to me and my colleagues. Thinking through these three steps have already given me some relief. I’ll write it down in my journal. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Allemande Left says:

    Thanks for your comments Allison and Rachel. Holy Week is a special time to slow down and ponder the interconnected nature of humanity; the common suffering. I’m glad the exercise is helpful for you.

  4. David says:

    One of the best articles I have read since the covid19 outbreak. You made a lot of excellent points, and this was great article of hope during difficult times. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Caroline says:

    Such a lovely post, Allemande Left. Thank you.

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